Seat Belt Usage Reaches New High In U.S., NHTSA Reports

Despite continuing increases in the number of deaths each year from auto accidents, federal regulators indicate that drivers and passengers are actually more likely to use their seat belt than ever before. 

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released the 2016 National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS) on November 21, which indicates that seat belt use among drivers and passengers has reached the highest level since 1994, when the federal government first began collecting data on seat belt use.

NOPUS is the only survey that provides nationwide probability-based observed data on seat belt use in the United States. It also records the use of child restraints, motorcycle helmet use and electronic device use.

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The NHTSA uses the annual study to recognize behavioral trends among American motorists to help determine whether campaigns such as “Click It or Ticket” have a positive effect on motorists.

The data from the survey, taken in June, shows daytime seat belt use among drivers and front-seat passengers reach 90.1%, a statistically significant increase from the 88.5% participation rate reported in 2015. According to the NHTSA, seat belt use alone saved 14,000 lives in 2015, and is estimated to have saved 345,000 lives since 1975.

Efforts to encourage seat belt use have come in many different forms, with mandatory seat belt use laws at the state level, and with Congress providing resources such as incentive grants and support for enforcement. Additional efforts have included state enforcement and education campaigns, and seat belt advocacy efforts by the automotive and insurance industries.

“Vehicles have many more safety features today than ever before, but there is nothing more important than the simple seat belt,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said in a press release on Monday. “We are encouraged by this progress, but with so many people still dying in crashes because they are not wearing their seat belts, we will not rest until we reach 100 percent.”

Despite the widespread collaborative efforts, the NHTSA recently released new vehicle collision safety data from the 2016 issue of Traffic Safety Facts, indicating the number of motor vehicle deaths during the first half of 2016 increased 10%, compared to the same time period last year, suggesting another consecutive rise in traffic related fatalities.

The NHTSA estimates nearly 18,000 people died in car crashes from January to June of 2016. During the first half of 2015, nearly 16,000 people lost their lives in car accidents. Both years showed a significant increase when compared to the car crash fatality data from the first six months of 2011, which reported about 15,000 deaths.

The fatality rate for the first half of 2016 increased to 1.12 deaths per 100 million people up from 1.05 per 100 million people in 2015. Traffic fatalities increased by 7.2 percent from 2014 to 2015, up to more than 35,0000 deaths for the entire year. The final fatality data for 2016 will be available next year.

Researchers warned that the second quarter of 2016 represents the seventh consecutive quarter that has had increases in fatalities, compared to the same quarters in the prior year.

Studies over the last decade have indicated human error contributes to 94% of all automobile accidents, whether fatal or not. The most persistent contributors to human error crash fatalities have been distracted, drowsy, and drunk driving, as well as failure to wear seat belts.


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